Monday, January 19, 2015

MLK, the Beloved Community and 2015

Remarks at the Martin Luther King Jr. Ecumenical Service, Jan. 18, 2015, at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Madison Wis.

Let’s go way back for a moment, back to 1956 at the successful end of the Montgomery bus boycott that won African Americans the right to sit anywhere on city buses that they wanted, not just to be shoved to the back of the bus.

Martin Luther King, Jr., the 27-year old minister who had led the boycott – and whose house had been bombed during that year-long struggle - said at the victory rally: “The end is reconciliation; the end is redemption; the end is the creation of the Beloved Community.”

He used that term a lot – the Beloved Community. It’s pretty easy to think of the Beloved Community as some sort of idyllic place where everyone gets along – that means they all think the way we think, right? – and where everyone has good manners and no one even spits on the sidewalk.

I think King’s view of the Beloved Community was idyllic – we're a long ways from being there – but it’s not some pastel landscape of blandness.

A beloved community does not overlook injustice in its midst. It confronts injustice, but not with violence, not with hatred, but with the kind of love that can turn enemies into allies. Martin Luther King spent time with the teachings of Jesus – teachings about justice and about loving your enemies – yes, even your enemies.

As he said in 1959, “The aftermath of nonviolence is the creation of the beloved community, so that when the battle’s over, a new relationship comes into being between the oppressed and the oppressor.”

Now here we are in 2015 and the Beloved Community still seems to be way out there on the horizon. You know the litany that undergirds the justified anger in our midst – the highest incarceration rate for black men of any state in our nation, the academic disparity between African American and white 4th and 8th graders is the highest in the nation, the unemployment here far higher for blacks than for whites social gaps all across our city and region.

And you know the litany of violent deaths over the past months that have ripped the hearts out of families and elevated confrontations in communities all across the nation. Will we ever get to the Beloved Community?

The only place we can start is right here, right now. We can carry on the legacy of Dr. King to stand with the excluded and the oppressed, to walk with those seeking justice, to hear the words of Common at the end of the Selma movie and then to live them out as we step by step get closer to that vision, that dream of a Beloved Community:

We sing, our music is the cuts that we bleed through
Somewhere in the dream we had an epiphany
Now we right the wrongs in history
No one can win the war individually
It takes the wisdom of the elders and young people's energy
Welcome to the story we call victory
Comin' of the Lord, my eyes have seen the glory